Europe and Central Asia
3 Jun 2016

For sustainable aquaculture, we need better data

Only good and enough data can tell us the impact of aquaculture on marine life and help us mitigate it. © JM Arcos/BirdLife
By Bruna Campos

“Farmed in the EU” is the new slogan of the European Commission, which is desperately trying to sell the idea of sustainable aquaculture fish to European citizens. However, achieving that sustainability is a little more complicated for the aquaculture sector.

The environmental impact of aquaculture (farming of aquatic organisms) on marine protected areas can include pressure on fish stocks that form part of what the farmed fish eat, eutrophication (the ecosystem’s response to an oversupply of artificial or natural nutrients) due to faecal waste generation, chemical pollution from fertilisers and antibiotics, and litter pollution due to plastic equipment lost at sea.  

If any infrastructure is going to have a negative effect on the conservation of a seabird species, we would naturally want to mitigate this (if your holiday beach is clogged with marine litter, wouldn’t you want to know the source so you could stop it?). We can’t fix these problems if we don’t know where, when and why this environmental degradation is taking place. And if we can’t fix the problem marine life, including seabirds, dolphins and sea turtles will continue to suffer.

Knowing depends on better access to data. Yet, there is a pushback on getting data from the marine and freshwater aquaculture sector. The key to ensure we get this information sits in the Data Collection Framework Regulation. This details what and how information needs to be collected from the fishing and aquaculture industry.

In June 2015, the European Commission proposed a revision of the regulation and for the first time, they proposed that the data on the impact that fisheries and aquaculture have on the wider ecosystem should be collected. This includes knowing if an aquaculture site is causing water pollution, marine litter, or disturbing nature in any way.

On 11 April, 2016, the Member States adopted part of the Commission’s position – they said data from the impact of fishing on the wider environment should be collected, but the same data from any type of aquaculture would not be gathered. A week later, the European Parliament adopted their position, which said that data on the environmental impact of marine aquaculture should be collected but not freshwater aquaculture.

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Yet, looking at the current level of production and the growth projected for freshwater aquaculture in the EU, this lack of potential data is extremely worrying. There is an expected growth rate of more than 40% for major species such as trout and carp, further plans to expand the production of catfish and sturgeon, and the introduction of new species. So the impact on the environment of this currently small sector needs to be monitored. Without this information, it will be impossible to assess freshwater and marine aquaculture’s sustainability.

This can still change with the Data Collection Framework Regulation. The European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Member States (represented by the Dutch presidency) have started negotiating on a final regulation.

They should bear in mind that aquaculture activities that do not deliver public goods can be significantly devastating to the environment. EU environmental legislation clearly states that the degradation of the environment, including its biodiversity and water quality, shall be prohibited or avoided. This can only be guaranteed if the necessary underlying data are collected.

Furthermore, aquaculture and aquaculture products without a marine/freshwater distinction are being subsidised by the EU, so there is no excuse to exclude freshwater aquaculture data in this revised regulation, especially as that data will ensure that EU taxpayers’ money will not be invested in environmental destructive activities.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.